(NewsNation) — The winter storm that swept the country with bitter cold has had millions of families cranking up the heat, but it’s a cost that many can’t afford.
Inflation has hit Americans hard, and heating bills are no exception. The National Energy Assistance Directors Association said the cost of heating has gone up 35 percent over the last two years. and one in six families are already behind on utility bills. Nationwide, that’s a total of more than $16 billion and winter is just beginning.
The price of natural gas is up due to the war in Ukraine, and more families than ever are asking for help on their heating bills.
“Across the board, states are telling us that applications are up 15-20 percent from last year because some families that could afford didn’t apply. But this year is a double whammy second year of high prices and there’s no end to these increases in sight,” said Mark Wolfe, executive director of the National Energy Assistance Director’s Association.
There are ways families can save to on bills, Wolfe said.
The first step is to get your furnace tuned up to make sure it’s working as efficiently as possible. Turn your heat down as much as is comfortable, and lower it more at night or when you aren’t at home. According to the Department of Energy, you can save up to 10 percent on your utility bill if you turn your heat down by at least 7 degrees for 8 hours.
Also, check places in your home where heat can escape or cold air can get in via drafts. The Department of Energy says 30 percent of home heat can be lost through windows, so close your blinds or put up curtains to cover them. Also, make sure your fireplace flue is closed when it’s not being used.
You can also ask for a payment plan from your utility company, and if you can’t pay, apply for assistance through the Low Income Energy Assistance program. It’s a federal program with more than $6 billion budgeted this year to help families with energy bills.